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A primer for all things Pedro

Special to The Times

FOR more than 20 years Spain’s ever-evolving Pedro Almodovar has shown that an openly gay artist’s sensibility can be a strength. For Almodovar’s uses of melodrama, camp, drag queens and transvestites fuel his sense of life’s absurdities -- its cruelties and capriciousness.

As a lead-in to Almodovar’s latest film, “Volver,” which stars Penelope Cruz and reunites him with Carmen Maura, his original muse, Sony Pictures Classics will present “Viva Pedro,” a series of eight of Almodovar’s more significant films, in one-week runs at the Sunset 5.

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“Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” (Friday) With this 1988 release Almodovar moved into the mainstream with a funny movie full of sly comic touches. It’s a showcase for Maura, cast as a Madrid actress whose longtime lover and colleague dumps her. She doesn’t have a chance to fall apart because Almodovar catches her up in a nonstop, freewheeling farce. Amid much humor the film shows us a woman coming into her own and taking charge of her own destiny.

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“All About My Mother” (Sept. 1) This film won the 1999 foreign film Oscar. Its plot could scarcely be more far-fetched or loaded with coincidence; as such it reflects Almodovar’s mastery of tone. The series of calamities that befall a Madrid nurse (Cecilia Roth) becomes a testament to women’s indomitable strength in the face of adversity. Tragedy brings Roth together with the woman who inadvertently triggered it, a stage star (Marisa Paredes). Paying homage to the vintage woman’s picture, “All About My Mother” manages to be funny and poignant while showcasing six important actresses, including Cruz.

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“Talk to Her” (Sept. 8) A 2001 release, this film brings together two seemingly very different individuals, this time men, in an offbeat tale. Javier Camara’s fussy, plump male nurse becomes enamored by a beautiful young dancer in a coma (Leonor Watling) while Dario Grandinetti’s writer becomes intrigued by a striking bullfighter (Rosario Flores), who also winds up in a coma. Almodovar explores friendship and the power of love at its most paradoxical.

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“The Flower of My Secret” (Sept. 15) Released a decade ago, it finds Almodovar telling his story in a lower key than he had before, catching a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown. She is a romance novelist (Marisa Paredes) who realizes she has outgrown her career in the face of a dying marriage. Almodovar concerns himself with all the other women in the film, and in doing so, celebrates the capacity of women to reach out to others.

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“Live Flesh” (Sept. 22) Don’t be put off by the title; this is an effortlessly articulated 1998 tragicomedy. Almodovar is outrageous when contemplating the folly of human passion when it collides with fate. A convoluted and volatile contemporary “La Ronde,” it helped consolidate Javier Bardem as a top male star of his generation and features Angela Molina, the last of Luis Bunuel’s memorable discoveries, and Liberto Rabal, grandson of one of Bunuel’s greatest stars, Francisco Rabal.

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“Law of Desire” (Sept. 29) Leave it to Almodovar to spin this 1987 lurid tale of lust and violence. The central figure is a famous gay film director (Eusebio Poncela) on a break from his lover and from filmmaking. He has a gaudy sister (Maura), a nightclub entertainer, and a handsome 20-year-old (Antonio Banderas) ardently pursuing him. What concerns Almodovar most is how these three respond to the “law of desire.”

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“Matador” (Oct. 6) In this swift, elegant 1988 release, Almodovar perceives in bullfighting an equation between sex and death that’s at the heart of this puritanical and macho culture. More disturbing than some earlier Almodovar films, the film stars Nacho Martinez as a celebrated torero, sidelined permanently by a goring that has left him lame, who has discovered that the only thing that equals the thrill of triumph in the bull ring is sex that ends in murder. Assumpta Serna’s criminal lawyer has discovered that sexual gratification demands skewering a man with the precision that Martinez has slain bulls.

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“Bad Education” (Oct. 13) In the boldest of Almodovar’s films, Gael Garcia Bernal’s actor approaches a successful young filmmaker (Fele Martinez), reminding him that as adolescents they had been best friends. He has written a script about their experiences and imagined how they had turned out as adults. As intrigued by the sexy, somewhat mysterious Garcia Bernal as by his script, Martinez commences investigating the actor as the film moves between past and present, reality and illusion.


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